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Woman, 79, dies in senior high-rise fire

| Saturday, March 14, 2009, 12:00 p.m.

A North Side woman died of injuries received in an overnight fire at a high-rise apartment building for senior citizens.

Julia Matthias, 79, who suffered severe burns in the fire at the West Park Court Apartments, died at 3 p.m. Friday at UPMC Mercy, Uptown, a spokesman for the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office said.

Pittsburgh firefighters evacuated about 50 seniors from the apartments on North Avenue near Brighton Road shortly before midnight because of a fire in Matthias' eighth-floor apartment, authorities said.

City arson investigators ruled the fire accidental, city police Lt. Daniel M. Herrmann said.

Firefighters evacuated the top three floors of the complex, Assistant Fire Chief Francis Deleonibus said. The evacuated seniors watched talk shows in a community room on the ground floor while waiting to return to their rooms. Paramedics stayed with them to monitor their health, Deleonibus said.

"We contained the fire without any problem," Deleonibus said. "While evacuating the residents, since they are elderly, we had to pay special attention to them."

Evacuated residents returned to their apartments about 3:30 a.m., said Bob Legge, maintenance supervisor at West Park Court.

Firefighters contained the fire to one apartment, authorities said. Legge said the building's makeup and firefighters' quick response prevented a larger loss.

"The floors and ceilings, everything is made of concrete," he said. "That saved us from having a lot of people get hurt -- that, and the firemen getting here so quickly."

Fire Chief Daryl Jones said investigators are trying to determine what caused the fire. He estimated the damage at $3,000 to the building and $6,000 to Matthias' belongings. Legge said the apartment is a total loss.

West Park Court is operated by Arbors Management Inc., based in Monroeville. Company officials did not return a call seeking comment.

West Park Court has 110 apartments. It houses people 62 and older.

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